• The Intimology School

What To Do When Your Man Can’t Get It Up

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

In this post, we will cover erectile dysfunction; what it is, common causes and how it affects the female partner.

This post is focused on the heterosexual couple and is a brief article on the topic, our ebook ‘Erectile Dysfunction. A women’s Guide’ written by Dr Mafe Peraza Godoy goes into greater detail, recommendations and information from her experience working with erectile dysfunction for over 10 years.

Key points covered:

  • What is erectile dysfunction

  • What it means when erectile problems occur temporarily or frequently

  • How erections work

  • Physical and emotional issues causing erectile dysfunction

  • Reasons why a man can’t get an erection

  • The notion of masculinity and sexual power centred around the penis

  • How Erectile dysfunction affects the female partner

  • Common opinions and thoughts by women


  • Occasional or temporary erectile dysfunction is very common and it happens for most men, mostly when feeling stressed or tired.

  • Frequent erectile dysfunction could be a sign of more severe health issues.

  • Masculinity and power do not have to be centered around the penis, there are many other ways to be intimate with your partner that does not include penetration.

  • Erectile dysfunction is not the partner’s fault, even though many women think it’s because their partner doesn’t find them attractive anymore - which is not the case.

What is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile Dysfunction, or ED for short, is the most common sex related problem men report to their doctor. According to The Urology Care Foundation, it affects more than 30 million men in the US and 4.3 million men across the UK (equivalent to 1 in 5), yet almost half of those surveyed (45%) who have experienced such problems have not sought any form of help.

Erectile Dysfunctions is defined as having trouble getting, maintaining or keeping an erection enough to have intercourse. In some cases the penis can get partly erect and reach all phases of an erection, for some they can not get an erection at all and for others, they can reach a firm erection but are having problems maintaining it during intercourse.

We cover this in greater detail in our ebook ‘Erectile Dysfunction. A women’s Guide’.

How often do men experience Erectile Dysfunction?

Occasional ED is not uncommon, many men experience it during times of stress. Occasional issues getting an erection happens to many, when the man is tired, stressed, distracted or drunk.

For most men, this is only temporary. However, if ED is frequent and consistent, it could be a sign of health problems that require treatment. Frequent ED could also be a sign of emotional or relationship difficulties which may need to be discussed with a professional such as a specialist in sexology.

What are the mechanisms of an erection?

An erection starts with sexual stimulus; tactile, olfactory, visual, auditory, fantasies and/or memories. An erection is the result of increased blood flow into the penis. When the man is sexually aroused, muscles in the penis relax which allows for increased blood flow through the penile arteries. This fills two chambers in the penis and once the chambers fill with blood, the penis grows in thickness and length. The erection ends with the muscles contracting and the accumulated blood flows out through the penile veins. With erectile dysfunction, there could be not enough blood flow into the penis or blood is not staying in the penis.

This will be covered in a later section and in the ebook.

Image by The Intimology - School Of Healthy Pleasure

Erectile Dysfunction is more common in older men, but can occur for younger males as well. It is also individual, many men can get and maintain an erection late in life. Psychogenic erectile dysfunction is more common than organic dysfunction in younger men whilst ageing and onset of diseases are organic risk factors which can cause erectile problems in older men.

What causes Erectile Dysfunction?

The reasons for a man not being able to get an erection, can both be physical and emotional.

Physical Causes of Erectile Dysfunction:

Some physical causes of ED are:

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes

  • Smoking

These can create health issues such as hardened arteries, heart disease and high blood sugar, all can lead to reduced blood flow.

Physical causes of ED can also be the result of:

  • Cancer treatment near the pelvis (can affect the penis’ functionality),

  • Injury or surgery affecting the nerve signals from the brain or spinal cord (not reaching the penis)

  • Drugs used to treat other health issues (can negatively impact erections).

Emotional Causes for Erectile Dysfunction

The brain affects all functions in the body, including the genitals. Emotional or relationship problems can cause or worsen ED.

Some emotional issues that can cause ED are:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Relationship conflicts

  • Stress

  • Worry about sexual performance

Masculinity and sexual power are focused on the penis and if the man is having problems with his self-esteem or self-image, this could result in the man feeling stressed, insecure or worried about his performance.

As for women in today’s society, there is an expectation of how the man should look like. The alpha-male stereotype is portrayed all over social media, movies and advertisements. The man needs to be tall, muscular, brave, and he needs to have a big penis. This adds pressure for the man, it’s an unrealistic image to live up to. Not feeling good enough or not living up to the expectations could be another emotional cause of ED.

What are the symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction?

Symptoms of ED include:

  • being able to get an erection sometimes (but not every time wanting to have sex)

  • being able to get an erection, but not having it last long enough for sex

  • being unable to get an erection at any time and a reduced interest in sex

Erectile dysfunction can happen to anyone, but to reduce the chances it is important to reduce stress levels, manage one’s mental health, avoid smoking and manage health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Reasons why your man can’t get it up

As discussed previously masculinity and sexual power is centered around the penis and the penis is seen as a tool of power. Male superiority and power over women has been proclaimed as ‘normal’. Sex is another agency of power where men are masculine, powerful and dominant. Gender-bias socialization has created a framework of male sexuality where phallus, performance and power is at the core of men’s sexual health concerns. Therefore, a man’s sexual performance is part of the idea of masculinity.

Male sexuality relies on performance and when a man can’t perform, his masculinity is threatened. Sexual power is associated with the alpha-male stereotype which provides the fundamental pillar of masculinity; self-image, security and self-esteem. A man with erectile dysfunction feels embarrassed, anxious, frustrated, incapable and not masculine enough. In a society where the man is not supposed to be weak or express emotions, it can be hard to verbalise frustration or seek help.

It is not uncommon for a man to be available to get an erection when being on his own but can experience problems when with a partner. If everything works in some encounters but not others, anxiety is often the culprit. One or two bad experiences can convince him that he will never get an erection again and put unrealistic expectations on himself. Masturbation is not the problem, this is a problem of anxiety or performance pressure. Worrying about his erection won’t help or improve the situation. He could be more comfortable performing sexual acts on his own, it could be a good opportunity to experiment with other forms of intimacy and rediscover what you both enjoy. Ignoring the problem could worsen the situation. It could help to open up the conversation (if he feels comfortable with it) and normalize the problem instead of shaming.

How does ED affect me as his partner?

Many women feel like when their partner can’t get an erection it is because of them, that the man doesn’t find the woman attractive anymore or that he is not interested in her anymore. Socially women have not been allowed to take responsibility for their own pleasure, even female masturbation is still seen as a taboo and is not socially acceptable to the same level as it is for men.

Many women feel like they need to see the erect penis to feel desired, that their pleasure relies on the penis. When the penis is not getting erect, women, therefore, think it’s their fault. This is not the case, erectile problems occur more because of the man’s own life and problems. Because of this idea that sex and intimacy are centred around penetration, there is added pressure for the men to satisfy the woman. This is a reason why men can show a decreased interest in sex (the sex drive can still be normal even if the man has erectile dysfunction but might feel pressured to perform in bed), without communication this can be why women may think it is their fault. Recommendations and more information is available in the ebook.

A survey conducted by Superdrug online doctor revealed that 19.37 % of 1000 women thought that ED was the result of men not finding them attractive enough anymore and 14% said it affected their confidence.

42% of these women also thought that the man getting ED was his own fault.

Another question that was asked was: ‘Did you seek out further information on ED to help your partner?’, more than 40 % answered no.

Our ebook is a manual written from the female perspective and covers everything from what erectile dysfunction is, the anatomy of the penis to communicating with your partner. Dr Mafe Peraza Godoy, with experience of more than 10 years treating men with erectile dysfunction and listening to the women in their lives.


Erectile dysfunction is common both for older and younger men, more so for older men because of ageing and they are more prone to diseases with age.

Erectile dysfunction can be caused by both physical and emotional factors such as obesity, smoking, drugs, stress and feeling tired. Anxiety is a big culprit when it comes to erectile problems when men can’t get an erection or have intercourse with their partner they can feel unmasculine and embarrassed.

Male and female pleasure has been centered around penetration and the penis for a long time, with erectile dysfunction or not it is important for the woman to discover or take charge of what she enjoys and what brings her pleasure. A man can experience pleasure without penetration or having an erection, for a couple is it important to find other ways to be intimate and be close to one another.


  1. Urology Care Foundation, urologyhealth.org; https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/erectile-dysfunction(ed) [Updated June 2018]

  2. Alana Biggers, Healthline; https://www.healthline.com/health/erectile-dysfunction [Published December 2019]

  3. DR Hayley Willacy, Patient Info; https://patient.info/mens-health/erectile-dysfunction-impotence [Updated May 2019]

  4. Sharful Islam Khan, Nancy Hudson-Rodd, Sherry Saggers, Mahbubul Islam Bhuiyan, Abbas Bhuiya, Syed Afzalul Karim & Oratai Rauyajin. Phallus, performance and power: crisis of masculinity, Sexual and relationship therapy journal, vol 23 issue 1, published August 2009. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14681990701790635

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIDDK; https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes [Published July 2017]

  6. Jay Bishoff, Intermountain Healthcare; https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2018/06/how-do-i-know-if-i-have-erectile-dysfunction/ [Published June 2018]

  7. Superdrug Online Doctor, Superdrug: https://onlinedoctor.superdrug.com/women-and-ed/

  8. Ari Tuckman, Psychology Today; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sex-matters/202005/when-your-partner-can-t-get-it [Published May 2020]

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